Developers envision a home for working-class families in Kent

Having secured zoning that will allow an apartment complex to be built next to the Marc’s shopping plaza in Kent, MVAH Partners is forging ahead with its plans to provide affordable housing for working families and independent senior citizens.

The company hopes to transform the vacant five-acre site into two apartment buildings with a combined total of 100 to 180 units, said Pete Schwiegeraht, senior vice president of development for MVAH Partners’ midwest region.

“Kent has a severe lack of affordable housing options focused on the workforce and/or focused on seniors,” he said. “The units they do have are 100% occupied across the board and have wait lists. So if you’re someone who’s in need of affordable housing right now and you work or live in Kent, you really struggle to find options right now, or you’re on wait lists.”

Affordable housing in Kent currently targets what he calls the “very low income community,” the members of which may hold Section 8 and HUD vouchers.

“But then there’s this other income bandwidth of working-class individuals who still struggle to make ends meet because of the lack of options in town as well as the price of rentals because of the university,” he said.

That’s the target clientele for MVAH Partners. Potential residents may earn up to 80% of Portage County’s average median income, which translates to about $69,000 for a family of five, and $64,000 for a family of four. Instead of paying $1,000 a month for a two-bedroom apartment in Kent, MVAH Partners’ clients would pay closer to $800.

“There’s no affordable product in town. What is there is 20-30 years old, and functionally obsolete,” he said.

By contrast, the buildings MVAH Partners has in mind will be highly energy efficient, and will be constructed with as many naturally healthy building materials as possible. The two-building complex will include double the amount of required ADA units, and if more are needed, any given unit can be converted into an ADA unit, he said.

Located at the corner of state routes 261 and 43, the apartments will feature open floor plans, walk-in closets, in-unit laundry facilities, dishwashers and disposals. Management offices will be on site, and Schwiegeraht envisions a small theater area, a playground, gardens and a shaded picnic area.

“For a working-class family, you can help serve them with a better rent rate, which allows them to save quicker, invest more money into the community, invest more money into education and their family while getting a higher quality product,” he said.

The $20-$30 million project hinges on MVAH Partners securing specially earmarked financing through the state of Ohio: a highly competitive process that is by no means assured. Kent’s city leaders would also have to provide a conditional use permit for the property as well as support, though Schwiegeraht declined to specify what that support might be.

Bridget Susel, Kent’s community development director, said monetary support may not be available. Beyond some $300,000 in HUD funds Kent receives annually to support existing projects and nonprofit agencies that aid low-to-moderate income residents, the city does not have access to additional funding sources that may support residential low-income housing tax credit projects.

MVAH Partners hopes to apply for the crucial state funding in the next six to nine months, kickstarting a year-long finalization process. If the funding comes through, the apartments could be under construction in a little over a year, with completion planned 15 months after that.

If the funds or local support doesn’t come through, Triway Investments, which owns the property, will have to determine an alternative future for the property.

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Wendy DiAlesandro is a former Record Publishing Co. reporter and contributing writer for The Portager.